Mets 6, Nationals 4

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WASHINGTON (AP)—For five innings Saturday night, John Maine allowed a grand total of one ball to leave the infield.

Sure, that one landed in the upper deck, and he gave up another homer in the sixth, but Maine is proving to himself and his New York Mets teammates that when he’s on the mound, good things can happen.

Maine took a one-hitter into the sixth, Carlos Beltran had three hits and the Mets took advantage of Washington’s thin bullpen to beat the Nationals 6-4 Saturday night.

“The kid’s been unbelievable. He’s starting to believe that his stuff is that good. I think all of us know it here,” catcher Paul Lo Duca said. “He’s going to be here for a long time. You can see a kid evolving into something special.”

The Mets took a 4-1 lead thanks in part to Maine’s spectacular first five innings. Washington’s only hit to that point was Nick Johnson’s 18th homer, an upper-deck shot with two outs in the fourth.

That ended Maine’s scoreless streak at 26 innings, 25 as a starter.

“It’s tough to go out there pitching and not give up a run,” said Maine, who had nine major league starts before this season. “I wish it had gone differently but it didn’t and that just means I’ve got some things to go work on.”

He relied mainly on his two-seam and four-seam fastballs, while mixing in an effective changeup and curve.

“He just challenged us,” said Brian Schneider, part of an 0-for-14 night with six strikeouts for Washington’s 5-6-7-8 hitters.

Maine wound up giving up Alfonso Soriano’s 37th homer in the sixth, when Washington scored three runs to make it 4-all. But even with a no-decision, and getting charged with four runs and four hits in 5 1-3 innings, his ERA is 2.64.

“Each outing, he’s getting more polished. He has an ability to get a lot of swings and misses,” Lo Duca said. “He has a knack to put guys away.”

After Soriano’s homer, Felipe Lopez singled and stole his 31st base of the season. Maine got Ryan Zimmerman to fly out, but with Johnson up next, Mets manager Willie Randolph came out to remove his starter.

“He has some things he needs to refine, but I’m not going to nitpick too much with what he’s doing,” Randolph said. “He’s in a nice little rhythm right now and I just want to keep him right there.”

Lefty Pedro Feliciano (5-2) entered and threw two changeups, the second of which Johnson lined to center for an RBI single, tying the game at 4. From there, though, the Mets’ bullpen shut down Washington. Feliciano wound up going 1 2-3 innings, and Aaron Heilman threw a scoreless eighth.

Billy Wagner pitched the ninth for his 27th save this season and the 311th of his career, tying Tom Henke for 15th on the career list.

The Nationals had that sort of relief relay last season, when closer Chad Cordero led the majors with 47 saves. But some early injuries, coupled with trades that sent away Mike Stanton, Bill Bray and Gary Majewski, depleted the bullpen, leaving it filled mainly with minor leaguers. And the only left-handed reliever currently on the roster, Micah Bowie, has been hurt since Tuesday.

“They’re not going to be consistent,” Nationals manager Frank Robinson said of his young relievers. “That’s the one thing that’s going to be their Achilles’ heel out there.”

So when starter Jason Bergmann—himself a converted reliever just brought up from Triple-A New Orleans after ace Livan Hernandez was traded—left after giving up three runs over five innings, the Mets capitalized.

Travis Hughes came in for Bergmann to begin the sixth, and David Wright hit his second pitch for a double. Tucker walked, and Lastings Milledge’s high chopper produced an infield single that made it 4-1.

Hughes said he has to “quit trying to overthrow—sometimes I let the game get carried away.”

After Washington tied it in their half of the sixth, New York went right back to work against Chris Schroder (0-1). Beltran led off with a double, Schroder hit Wright, and Jose Valentin singled on a full count to make it 5-4. Michael Tucker’s flyout added the final run.

“They’re going to get better,” Schneider said about the bullpen, “but our goal is not just to get better, our goal is to get better and win at the same time.”


Beltran is the first player in the majors with 30 homers and 30 doubles this season. Needing a homer to complete a cycle, he grounded out in the ninth. … The attendance of 42,507 was the fourth-largest crowd at RFK Stadium this season.

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